Family, religion give Hedrick a new perspective
Chad Hedrick has just finished a workout when he spots his wife and daughter, watching from a room overlooking the speedskating oval at the Pettit National Ice Center. He breaks into a big smile and begins waving in their direction, like the giddy, first-time father he is. Meet the new Chad. Oh, he's still that brash, outgoing Texan with an insatiable desire to beat everyone else on blades. But he has some different priorities now: a family he can't stop gushing over, a spiritual awakening, an acceptance that skating won't last forever. "I sort of want to be at home, put on a suit and tie and go to work," said Hedrick, who plans to retire after the Vancouver Olympics. "I'm ready to look like a presentable person, not some bum who wears tennis shoes and warmups every day." That hardly sounds like the guy who switched over from inline and quickly became a world champion, all while challenging the norms of a staid, conservative sport. He took his unique skating style from wheels to ice. He didn't shy away from seemingly outlandish goals such as trying to match Eric Heiden's record of five gold medals. He found it perfectly acceptable to celebrate triumphs with wine, women and song (actually, beer is his drink of choice, but you get the idea). "He trained hard," coach Derek Parra said, "and he played hard." Hedrick still trains hard, and he'll certainly have a beer from time to time, but the rest of his life has taken a 180-degree turn. "I've got a new family now, with a new daughter, and a new relationship with the Lord," he said proudly. Hedrick has been married almost two years. Seven months ago, his wife, Lynsey, delivered their first child, a dimply daughter named Hadley. Along the way, he had a religious conversion that he talks about unabashedly, whether he's on Facebook or sitting down with a reporter. "I've really changed a lot," he told The Associated Press during this week's U.S. speedskating trials. "It's really strange to me how I've been given all this talent in my life without even following and praising the Lord at all." Before the last Olympics, Hedrick was focused mainly on himself. He set himself up to skate five events and didn't run from comparisons to Heiden, who won five gold medals at Lake Placid. Once Hedrick got to Italy, a nasty feud developed with fellow American Shani Davis. Hedrick entered the team pursuit and thought Davis should, too. Davis felt it would hurt his individual races. When the pursuit team failed to earn a medal, their animosity boiled over at a news conference following the 1,500 meters, in which Davis finished second and Hedrick third. Davis bitterly noted that he was congratulated by Hedrick for his silver medal, but not for the gold he won in the 1,000. Davis stormed out of the room with this enduring dig: "Shakes my hand when I lose. Typical Chad." All that drama overshadowed the amazing performance of both skaters: Hedrick won a medal of every color, while Davis became the first black athlete to capture an individual gold at the Winter Games. "The funny thing was, Shani and I got along before the Olympics - completely," Hedrick said. "A lot of other people on the team had issues with him, but I was one of the few who didn't. It just got totally blown out of proportion." Both say they've put their animosity aside, which seemed evident at their first head-to-head race of the trials. Davis slapped Hedrick's hand before the 5,000. After Davis won by two-hundredths of a second, Hedrick veered over with a congratulatory handshake. "I'm very thankful that Shani is on my team," the 32-year-old Hedrick said. "I'm very thankful that he pushes me and I'm sure he feels the same way." After Italy, Davis kept right on winning. Hedrick celebrated a little too long, then attempted to switch his trademark skating style at the behest of former national team coach Bart Veldkamp. Instead of pushing off with the skate still under his body, a style Hedrick brought over from inline, Veldkamp wanted him to try the traditional Dutch approach, where most of the force is exerted as the skate slides away from the body. It just didn't work. Hedrick has yet to make the podium at an international race since his Turin triumph. "Chad was probably in the best shape last year that he had been in a few years," Parra said. "The only difference was he was skating inefficiently. In skating, you can be an amazing athlete and if you can't put it on the ice, you can't go fast. "You're looking for the best of both worlds: amazing athlete and amazing technique. That makes you an Olympic champion and world-record holder." Hedrick has cut back on his program for Vancouver, focusing on the 1,500, 5,000 and team pursuit. Then he'll gladly call it a career. Just don't think he'll be satisfied with losing. He hasn't changed that much. "I'm going out there to finish my career with a gold medal," he said. "I didn't come here just trying to get on the podium."